“Those in favour of confirming Hezekiah Ideye as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria say ‘aye’”
There is a chorus reply of ayes.
“Those against say ‘nay’”
There is a debatably louder chorus reply of nays.
And then the Senate president raises his gavel…
A priest, a king, a rich man and a man with a gun. The gunman must kill two people.
No credible reason is given but he must choose two out of these three people to kill.
“Kill those two.” The priest commands. “Your god commands it.”
“Kill those two,” commands the king, “for I am your king and I command it.”
“Spare me, kill the other two,” the rich man bargains, “and all my wealth is yours.” The riddle comes to a midpoint with the question: Who lives and who dies?
It was my father’s favourite riddle. He even sometimes claimed to be the creator of the riddle even though few years later I read an all too similar rendition in a book written by someone an ocean away.
So who does the gunman spare and who does he kill? No matter how you look at it, it boils down to the man with the gun. If he is a pious man, the king and the rich man meet their demise; if he is a patriot, goodbye priest, goodbye rich man. Of course if he is like most people in this present era then the king and priest will have a shared funeral the moment option three is proposed. Either way, it all depends on the gunman’s reasoning.
And then, the golden question becomes: If power lies in the hands of men with arms, why are politicians, instead of soldiers, the ones who rule?
I figured the answer long ago: Because power is of the mind; it lies where we think it lies.
I’m the Hezekiah mentioned above by the way, Hezekiah Ideye. Partly thanks to my Dad’s aforementioned favourite riddle, I became obsessed with power. And since I deduced that it is inherently attached to the mind, I became obsessed with the human mind as well. By my late teens I had scoured most of the famous books about power and mind control: The Art of War, 48 Laws of Power, How to Grow Rich and Influence People etc. Young people when asked who they want to be in future usually state an ideal career as a response—I want to be a Lawyer, I want to be a Doctor, I want to be an Engineer etc. But me, I have had my much more unrealistic target right from childhood—I want to rule the world!
Relax. I’m not crazily idealistic enough to be incognizant of the fact that such an aspiration is impossible in this present day world. But it is an aim that makes me press on, always wanting to climb higher. Right from primary school, I was always the Class Rep. of my classes. By my senior year in secondary school, I was appointed as the Head Boy (Senior Prefect). In University, where I studied Political Science, I went from being a Course Rep. to being the Faculty head. In my third year, I went for the Student Union Government presidency—the highest post of power a student can attain. Of course it was a seat usually reserved for final year students and I still had a year left to go, but I won it. I was—I am good at coaxing people into doing what I want them to do. Years of study and practice has made me an awesome orator and a leader that inspires followership.
Then I graduated from school and, after a few years in business chasing money, dived into politics to chase my dreams. That’s when the tables began to turn. The problem with politics is that most of the people in politics already know and implement the power games I use—and at a much higher level. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t an immediate failure. On the contrary, during my initial years in politics I garnered acclaim as a political prodigy. People just loved me. I appeared on the scene, joined the country’s major opposition party and challenged for a seat in the House of Representatives (the lower house). My party had never won an election in my state so my opponents in the primaries were mediocre people who didn’t really believe they stood a credible chance of winning. I looked like the embodiment of hope to my party card holders and so they chose me as their flag bearer. I was aged twenty eight at the time; I don’t think my next opposition, the flag bearer of the ruling party and supposed clear favourite, took me seriously. At the end, all it took was a couple of rallies; my charisma swept people away. By the time the opposition realized it, it was too late. I became the youngest ever elected member into the National House of Representatives. My face became the trending cover photo of magazines—not a bad choice, I should point out; I am really good to look upon.
I became a national figure. Youths looked at me and saw hope. People from different constituencies rallied round me and sang my name. For merely overcoming all the hurdles and winning at such a young age, I was a hero.
Such amazing prospects, how and when did it all flip?
Four years later, when my tenure expired, that’s when. By that time the buzz surrounding me, which only lasted a couple of months, had died down—people get bored easily, new topics are always sort after. My name was still fondly remembered but it was hardly ever the topic in market squares and barber shops anymore. The question became: what next? What would be the next step for the man who wants to rule the world? Some advocated I go for the Governor’s seat, that way I would rule my State—a decent step no doubt. But I had no real interest in ruling my state. Yes, I wanted the world, but more realistically I wanted my country. And here in the capital is where the power to rule the country dwells. I didn’t want to leave this atmosphere; I felt going to my state would be a detour. So I vied for a seat in the upper chambers instead.
That’s where I spun round and tumbled.
The very same Senate seat I sought after was sought after by a ‘power stronghold’ in my party. People advised me to switch parties or drop my ambition. I feared doing either would generate a negative effect on the image of certainty and purpose I had already created of myself. So I pushed on, hoping my eloquent speeches would be enough.
But power lies where men think it lies.
And in this case, the men involved thought it to lie with rich, old men. I was way too young and poor to stand a chance. And so, during the primaries, I lost my first ever election although I didn’t lose it fairly. The election was so brazenly and openly rigged it was obvious my opponent wanted to prove a point.
And that was how, for four years, I was a passive member of the society. I was braced up to try again four years later when Umar Husseini, an elderly party member and statesman (one of the few elderly top politicians who truly liked and believed in me), convinced me to join the presidential campaign team which he was heading.
I agreed. He placed me at the forefront of the campaigns. I was proactive as we boisterously tried to convince people that a change was eminently necessary and our man was that necessity. Once again my name started reappearing on media outlets. Harry Potter was back!
We had an amazing campaign and when we eventually lost the election, we were applauded from all sectors.
But we lost.
In my defence, it was a battle against an incumbent president and how often do incumbent administrations lose in these parts? Also, my party’s candidate was just another ‘power stronghold’ and a ‘money bag’. As a contestant, he was as mediocre as one could be—even the biblical Samuel would have faced an uphill task crowning such as king.
But we lost.
Defeat has a dramatically bitter taste. But double, back to back defeats? I’ll run out of adjectives to express the sourness. I thought I was politically finished. I’ve heard it said that two consecutive losses spell the end of any political career.
And I want to rule the world.
I was on the brink of falling into depression when I got the call informing me that the President, Grand Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, had requested my audience.
Alas, our story finally begins.
I met him in the Presidential villa. He kept me waiting for hours either because he was busy or he just wanted to intimidate. He obviously wanted the meeting to be informal which might explain why he was dressed casually in a t-shirt and khaki shorts. That or he purposely wanted to put me off, which if that was the case was a success because seeing him so flippantly dressed, I felt hugely awkward in my tailor made suit and tie.
He smiled when we shook hands. Not a handsome smile like mine, but one that albeit seemed to emanate power.
“Hezekiah Ideye. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“I wish I could say the same, sir,” I quipped. He laughed.
Nice start, thought I to myself. Considering that a few months ago during the elections I was staunchly on the other side, vehemently vituperating everything related to him, it would have been a wonderful accomplishment if we managed to keep up the smiles. I just wished I knew what this meeting was about.
“You have an illustrious career in politics ahead.” His flattery was making me slightly nervous. I wasn’t for a second going to believe that he didn’t have some residual rancour towards me. Where were we heading to with this conversation?
“Do I?” I replied with a sigh.
He smiled that smile again. “Every great man endures his own share of failures. But you are young, charismatic, idealistic and most importantly, you have a way of getting mass favour and support. This country needs more people like you. Politics is a farce. Our titles and posts are ephemeral. Being a true leader supersedes these trivial manmade seats. You can be a leader if you choose to.”
I choose to rule the world.
He was staring at me like he could see into my soul. His eyes seemed to be soothing me, while wooing me. I couldn’t help but wonder how I ever believed we could defeat this guy.
“You did a great job during the campaigns, I must confess.” He said as though reading my thoughts.
I sighed again. “Your guys did a better job obviously. We lost, you won.”
He laughed out this time. “Of course, you have a lot still to learn. You are still young, perhaps, with a little too much ego and pride- not that it’s a bad thing. But pride without control is arrogance, and that is a bad thing.”
His face became stern. He was finally going to talk business, it seemed.
“You’ve shown great attributes, you’ve shown your willingness to lead. But I fear you lack the willingness to serve and that, Hezekiah Ideye, is the biggest blot in your persona.”
He resumed that soul-staring gaze. “Many people don’t realize that servitude and leadership go hand in hand. You can never be a true leader without first knowing how to serve. How would you help your subjects if you cannot think like them? Of course during campaigns politicians boast of their serving tendencies, all for votes. Such people come and go, but will never be remembered for their roles. I look at you and I see someone so badly hungry to do well, to leave a legacy.” To rule the world.
“So I’ll have to ask you in person. Are you ready to serve your nation, Hezekiah Ideye?
Are you ready to serve?”
I, who thought I had mastered the art of power, suddenly realized I had eons ahead to cover. I was a learner, and this man right here was a guru.
“Yes sir.” I was convinced I was.
He nodded and stood up. “Good. I intend to name you as part of my cabinet.” My mouth dropped open. I had not seen that coming. “But sir, I’m not in your party.”
He sighed. “This is my final term, Mr. Ideye. I am at the tail end of my political career.
I have no more elections to worry about. I don’t have to play the game anymore, I’ve already won it! Now I care less about partisan politics and bureaucracy. All I care about now is doing right, leaving a legacy. I believe you can help me achieve that.”
I stood up too and bowed slightly. He might not have known how rarely I made such open displays of submission.
“It would be an honour.”
I finally understood. To rule the world, first I must serve it.
The president smiled again. There was a slight hint of pity displayed on his lips. “My people say—‘Onye no n’ulo ya n’eche mmadu, ike adighi agu ya’. Interpreted, it means…” He seemed to struggle slightly with the translation. “One who is in his house waiting for a visitor does not get tired.”
Husseini was delirious with joy when I gave him a summary of my meeting with the president. He seemed even happier than me.
“This is it, Heze. This is it fa!” He sang.
His deeply northern tainted accent wasn’t easy understanding when he spoke normally. Now he was in high spirits, it felt like I was deciphering a vocal form of Morse code. At least I managed to catch it when he said, “This is your chance to bounce back.”
Two weeks later when the Presidency released the official list of appointees, before it even got to the press, Husseini was at my doorstep with a melancholic expression that made my heart jump.
Had I been deceived? Played for a fool?
“What is it, Husseini?”
“Toh! The list is out.” He said solemnly. “He nominated you as Minister, Minister of
Information. Kai! Magana yankari! Not Special Adviser or PA… A Minister.”
I couldn’t resist grinning. Hezekiah Ideye, Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria— that had such a nice ring to it. Then I noticed Husseini was staring at me irritably.
“But that’s awesome na!” I said to him.
He sighed and waved his hands exasperatedly. “You know nothing, yaro. If he had made you an adviser or a PA, it would have been automatically confirmed. But
Ministers must go through Senate screening after being nominated by the President. Did you forget that?” I had.
How instant a smile can disperse from a face. Suddenly, I understood the connoted meaning to the parting adage the President had said to me. That man had set me up.
Why was the Senate screening such a big deal?
Let me explain. The first stage of the senate screening involves at least two senators from your state of origin (every state has three senators) accepting your nomination.
Therein lay my first serious hurdle. Do you remember that ‘power stronghold’ in my state? The one I contested against for a Senatorial seat in the primaries? The one who gave me my first ‘L’? Well, he won a return ticket in the just concluded elections and my party won the other senatorial seats in my state as well. He, therefore, was one of the three senators I needed an approval from, and as a ‘power stronghold’, the other two answered to him. And unfortunately, he hated me.
“You know what you have to do, ko?” Husseini asked.
No, I did not.
“I have to see if I can goad the other two senators to…”
Husseini was already shaking his head vehemently. “Lai lai! That would not work. You must make peace with him. He controls the other two. Of course you’ll have to see the other two, but you must make peace with him, gaskiya!”
I sighed in desperation. “But how?”
“I don’t know oh. Go and see him, lick his shoes if that is what it will take.”
“And the other two? Do I have to kiss their feet too?”
“Well, you have to give them something.”
“I have to bribe them?”
Husseini silently swore. “It’s not a bribe, this boy. How much do you have that you’ll bribe men like that? It’s a formality.”
“Yes. A… a token. You’re not giving them to demand their support, you’re giving them as a sign of respect. Like an offering.”
“When you go to church, you give offerings habi? The offering is not a bribe to God, is
I shook my head in irritation. “There are some people that would consider such a comparison as blasphemy. How much ‘offering’ do I have to give these crooks?”
“Something not too small so as not to be seen as insulting. Maybe ten million naira.”
I was aghast. “Ten million naira? Each?”
He shrugged. “Anything lower than that might be seen as an insult.”
“How much do you think I have?”
“A little sacrifice. Look at the bigger picture here. Do you know how much you’re capable of making as a Minister?”
I have always looked at the bigger picture. But I was not willing to part with thirty million naira so easily, especially when the money would not guarantee their compliance.
Instead I bought exotic bottles of wine and went to see the other two senators. We shared ephemeral jokes and smiled at each other. It is said that in politics there is no permanent friend or enemy. I had a feeling, however, that the smiles I got from these two men weren’t entirely fake. One even spent a lengthy time with me arguing soccer.
These men could have liked me—might have liked me—would have liked me.
But they were looking at the bigger picture.
And the bigger picture told them they had to follow the wishes of those above (party strongholds).
So, I braced myself and went to see my nemesis. The man who with complete disregard to due process, or law, or morals, or fairness, kicked me off the senatorial race. But there are no permanent enemies in politics. Perhaps I could find a way of ingratiating him.
I didn’t even get a chance to try. The first day I tried seeing him, he kept me waiting for hours after which an aide came to inform me that he was busy and would see me the following week.
The next week, once again I was kept waiting for hours. I was subsequently informed that ‘something came up’ and the ‘power stronghold’ had travelled out for a few days.
I laughed on my way out. I got the message. He didn’t just want me to bow, he wanted me to roll and wallow… and he’ll still have refused eventually.
Chess players say moves are planned three steps ahead.
He was a political force to reckon with in my state, but even he had people he doffed his hat too. All I had to do was convince them and then they’ll give an order.
I went directly to the party chairman.
He was an astute politician. There was no beating around the bush. I started by pointing out to him how our party had been dwindling in popularity over the years noting that however, this negative downfall didn’t seem to affect my fan base, (the moment my name had appeared on the Ministerial list, I had returned to my famous glory self of old again). I explained how I believed we could win the country over by promoting young and eager minds such as mine. I was candid in my speech. I could save the party, I boasted. As a minister, I’ll effectively keep the party in government on a federal level giving them a much needed footstool for the upcoming elections.
He seemed impressed, but I had not moved my queen yet. My queen was a piece of paper, a document legally binding my loyalty to the party for the next four years.
“I’m fully here, sir. I am a full member of this party. We should support our own.” I said finally.
Now he was really and truly impressed.
Husseini called me by 3am two days later. He was cheerful again.
“Whatever you did worked. The party has officially thrown its support behind you. The senators must now support your nomination” Bingo!
I want to rule the world.
Now I had one more problem to solve. You didn’t think I was home free, did you? Stage two of the screening involves the nominees appearing individually before the entire Senate house where they’ll be drilled and interviewed by the senators. Easy peasy! I have a golden tongue. Answering questions or addressing an audience can never be a problem for me. Not that it really mattered. No one has ever, in the history of my country, been rejected or confirmed based on how well they responded to questions. It is all a matter of formality. The real confirmation has nothing to do with brilliance and everything to do with politics. Most of the senators have their minds made up long before the screening procedures start.
Why was this a problem for me?
Well, my name appearing on that list caused not a few murmurs in the president’s camp. His party couldn’t understand why he had picked someone from the opposition. To put it blandly, most of the ruling party members did not support my nomination. And that party had a majority in the Senate. Of course a few loyal to the president were on my side, but that probably still left more than half of the house wanting to show me the door.
What was the solution?
The Senate President!
A voice vote is done at the end of the proceedings. Those in favour shout ‘aye’, those against ‘nay’. The Senate president declares the louder one as the decision. However, in cases when both are pretty loud, when the difference is slightly indistinguishable, it literally falls to the choice of the Senate president. He says the decision and strikes the gavel down and it is final. I just needed him to say those four words for me- ‘The ‘ayes’ have it.’
I tracked him down to a lawn tennis court where I had, after extensive research, found out he visited every first Wednesday of the month. When I arrived, he was immersed in a conversation on his phone. A comely lady was sitting near the court, tying her shoe laces. I walked up to her and sat by her side.
“Hello?” I greeted. She stared up at me a little bit curiously but faintly smiled while returning the greeting. A faint smile, yet strong enough to send bugs down my stomach.
“I know right? You must think I got the wrong court.” I said.
She shrugged. “Do you play?” And then she blushed. “Stupid question—why else would you be in a tennis court?”
I laughed. “Don’t go too hard on yourself, I actually don’t play. I could have learnt long ago but I purposely didn’t for exact moments like this. ‘I can’t play’ is a perfect excuse to escape being whooped by some gorgeous Serena wanna be.” She laughed. I was already getting carried away.
“You don’t know me?” I asked with a frown.
“I’m supposed to?”
“Well, I’m kind of famous.”
“Are you a musician?”
“God no. I’m a politician.”
“I don’t fancy politics.”
“Well you still should have heard of me. I’m like the Justin Bieber of Nigerian politics.”
She giggled. “How so?”
“My generation adores me, the elders abhor me.”
The senate president had finished his call and was walking towards us.
“Well, Mr. Bieber, see you around. I believe it’s my Dad you’re here to see.” She gave me her cutest smile yet and walked away.
Hold on a second… your dad?
The senate president was staring at me a little bit suspiciously.
“Mr. Ideye, what a pleasant surprise.” He said extending his hand.
“The pleasure is mine sir.”
“You know my daughter?” He tried to sound flippant with the question—he did not succeed.
“No, no. Just met her here.”
“So, are you here to play?”
I put up my best smile. “I would say yes, but we’ll both know that’s a lie, sir.”
Her name is Louis—Louis Dagana, daughter of the Senate President, heir apparent to a massive fortune. But it was her smile, not those accolades that made me research on her. I pulled strings from different connections and got her phone number.
The first time I called her, I told her I wanted to speak to Selena Gomez. When she tried telling me I had called the wrong number, I told her it was Justin Bieber on the line. I heard her laughing and I knew I had hit my mark.
When the Senate ministerial screening began, I was the most talked about candidate. It seemed all the other nominees were sure to be confirmed, except me. My ‘faithfuls’ had already started trolling social medias with hashtags created for my support.
Then a day to my appearance before the Senate, the walls of Jericho came down.
Someone posted a couple of pictures of me and Louis hanging out online. Normally, it should not have garnered much attention—I am still single, young and fully eligible to date. But Louis being the Senate president’s daughter took the pictures from the plane of normalcy. The pictures went viral. Bloggers and folks of the press were lavishly imaginative when putting up headlines about them. All the stories were deeply lacking in facts. But someone had taken those pictures and released them at this particular time for a particular reason. And that person had succeeded.
Husseini was absolutely dejected the last time I saw him before I went to the Senate.
“You couldn’t wait at least till you are confirmed,” he lamented quietly. “You went to sleep with the daughter of the one man that has your fate in his hands.”
I sighed. “I didn’t sleep with her.”
He stared at me with a sardonic smile. “See if you can tell him that while answering questions, you hear?”
Louis met me outside the Senate chambers and tried to comfort me by telling me she had talked to her dad. She didn’t sound very convincing. If she had needed to talk to him, that means he had been affected by the stories, I concluded.
So, here I am, in the National Assembly, awaiting my verdict. The questions went as smoothly as anticipated. One of the senators thought he had me cornered when he asked how I could work with an administration I criticized months ago or if perhaps I had a change of mind and now believed in the present administration’s policies.
I answered calmly by pointing out how leadership is about service. Yes, I did criticize this administration yet now I’ve been invited on board showing that like every facet of life, there is room for improvement. It was never about individuals or bodies, I explained to them. It was about the country- about how to improve the country, and it still is. Do I have a change of mind? Do I now believe in this administration? A leader must listen to the voice of the masses. The masses speak loudest through their votes. In the last election, they spoke – and we listened.
They eventually realised they were making me look better with every new question raised so I was asked to take a bow and leave.
I’ve been sitting with Louis in an office nearby watching the proceedings on a TV screen. After interviewing, the senators commenced the voice votes. Around me people are congratulating each other on their confirmations or the confirmations of their acquaintances. When it gets to my turn, I sense heads turning in my direction; Louis grabs my hand and squeezes it.
“Those in favour of confirming Hezekiah Ideye as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria say ‘Aye’”
Ironically, I don’t really feel scared. Everyone around me seem more nervous than I, the candidate himself. It doesn’t really matter anymore, I guess. It would be lovely becoming a Minister but even if the Senate choose politics over reason and reject me, my country has already accepted me. Maybe not today or tomorrow—perhaps I’ll have to wait four more years—but I will serve.
Instead, I’m once again thinking about that my father’s favourite riddle. I think we have been asking the wrong questions.
“The ‘ayes’ have it!” Proclaims the Senate president.
Now they are all smiling at me, shaking hands with me, congratulating me.
A priest, a king and a rich man. The question I would rather ask would be: if you were the gunman in that riddle, who would you kill?
Louis embraces me fondly while I’m smiling and shaking the hands of people I don’t know.
One final question.
If I was the one holding the gun, who do you think I’ll spare?